This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published February 12, 2016 by National Review.
Unfortunately for the law-abiding citizens of Maryland, on February 9 the state legislature overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill allowing felons to register and vote the moment they are out of prison — even if they are still on parole or probation and haven’t paid any required restitution to their victims or other court costs and fines. The law will take effect in 30 days, just in time for about 44,000 felons to register and vote in the April 26 Maryland primary.
Using the usual argument of those who support allowing felons to vote as soon as they are released, Thomas V. Miller (D), the president of the Maryland Senate, said that felons are “people who have returned to society, repaid their debt to society… [and] we want to reincorporate them into society… We want them to be able to hold their head high, and that’s what this is all about.” But is this what it is really all about, or is it just an attempt to get more voters that favor his political party to the polls?
What Miller doesn’t mention is that under Maryland law, like other states, you don’t just lose your right to vote when you are convicted of a felony — Maryland also bars felons from owning a gun or serving on a jury. The state allows licensing boards to deny an application or impose sanctions on a current license holder for individuals convicted of “drug crimes.” Licensing boards as varied as cosmetology and architecture are also allowed to deny or suspend the license of an applicant who has been convicted of any felony or even “a misdemeanor that is directly related to the fitness and qualification of the applicant or licensee.”
There is nothing barring the state Department of Corrections or sheriff’s offices from doing background checks and refusing to hire felons. More generally, felons can be barred from any other state employment positions that require a background check or are designated state personnel-management positions. Since you have to undergo a criminal background check to get a teaching certificate in Maryland, this means you can be denied a teaching job the moment you step out of prison — even if you can now vote.
Furthermore, state law allows landlords to discriminate against anyone convicted of felony drug crimes or any person “whose tenancy would… constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals,” which may describe many felons convicted of violent crimes. Public-housing authorities like Montgomery County and Prince George’s County specifically say that they consider an applicant’s criminal history when determining their “suitability” for public housing.
If the members of the Maryland state legislature who voted to allow felons to vote immediately really believe that felons have “repaid their debt to society” and if they really want to “reincorporate them into society,” why didn’t they include provisions in this voting bill restoring all of those other rights. Are we to believe that they don’t trust a felon fresh out of prison to own a gun? That they don’t believe that felons have the judgment to serve on a jury? To work as law-enforcement officers or teachers? To live in public housing?
So even though these legislators don’t trust felons to be responsible in all of these other areas of licensing, public employment, housing, and the judicial system, they do trust that felons have the judgment to make responsible decisions in the voting booth that will affect the rule of law and specifically, the rules governing our civil society that those felons have proven they are willing to break.
Are these legislators really interested in “reincorporating” felons into our civil society? Or are they just interested in the potential votes these felons will bring?